In her forthcoming book, Invisible women, Jane Fortune spotlights women whose lives and works have enriched Florence's artistic wealth throughout the centuries. Marietta Robusti, known as ‘La Tintoretta,' is one of these women, and her paintings are part of the Florentine collections.
Marietta Robusti (Venice, circa 1552-1590) dressed in boy's clothing until the age of 15, so she could more easily accompany her father, the gifted Venetian painter Jacopo Robusti (1518-1594), better known as ‘Tintoretto.' Considered the favorite of his seven children, she was his eldest daughter and often called ‘La Tintoretta' (‘little dyer girl'), in honor of Jacopo, who had inherited the nickname from his own father, a dyer.
From her early teens until her death in 1590, Robusti apprenticed and worked in her father's workshop, absorbing many of the skills for which Tintoretto is most celebrated. Especially renowned for her portraits of aristocratic Venetians, she painted in the same flamboyant style that characterized her father's work. As her talents were a close match to his, it has proved consistently difficult for experts to distinguish their hands.
Although both Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II and King Philip II of Spain invited Robusti to be a painter in their courts, her father, reluctant to part with her, urged her not to accept the invitations. To ensure she would permanently remain in Venice, in 1578 Tintoretto arranged her marriage to a wealthy Venetian jeweler, Mario Augusti on the condition that she would not leave Tintoretto's house until he passed away-a stipulation both she and her husband accepted. Sadly, Robusti died in childbirth at age 30, four years after her marriage and four years before her father's death. Many historians speculate that Tintoretto's death was caused by the deep depression to which he succumbed after his beloved daughter's passing. Robusti is buried beside her father in the family parish, Venice's Madonna dell'Orto, surrounded by several of Tintoretto's paintings.
The Uffizi holds two of Robusti's works, including a miniature, Portrait of a lady (Cassetto delle minature, room 24) and her Self portrait, exhibited in the Vasari Corridor. The latter, which shows Robusti as a musician, is the only painting that has been conclusively attributed to her. Musically inclined, both vocally and instrumentally, she played the lute and harpsichord. In this work, Robusti carefully copied the musical score she is holding, Madonna per voi Philiane, by Philippe Verdelot, the father of the Italian madrigal. Its lyrics translate as ‘My lady, I burn with love for you and you do not believe it.' This painting is thought to have been created for a male viewer, perhaps her husband.
Very few canvases attributed to Robusti have survived, while several may simply have been incorporated into her father's oeuvre. In 1920, Portrait of a man with a boy (1585, Kunsthistorisches Museum), once considered among her father's best portraits, was attributed to Robusti on the basis of the ‘M' signature found on the work. Nonetheless, some scholars, reluctant to consider that she may have produced multiple works of her own, have been slow to uphold evidence of its authenticity.